Wirtes v. City of Newport News, No. 19-1780 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, the City of Newport News, alleging that it failed to accommodate his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff alleged that the City concluded that he could not perform the essential functions of his job as a detective and then offered him the options of either retiring early or accepting reassignment to a civilian position he did not want. Plaintiff reluctantly retired.
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, concluding that it is generally inappropriate for an employer to unilaterally reassign a disabled employee to a position the employee does not want when another reasonable accommodation exists that would allow the disabled employee to remain in their current, preferred position. The court clarified that it did not hold that an employer can never reassign an employee when there exists a reasonable accommodation that will keep the employee in their current and preferred position. This broad question was not before the court. Nor should this opinion be read in any way to restrict the ability of employers and employees to agree to a voluntary transfer. Rather, the court simply reiterated that reassignment is strongly disfavored when an employee can still do their current job with the assistance of a reasonable accommodation, and that reassignment should therefore be held "in reserve for unusual circumstances."